Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Great Grain Hunt

Finding the grains has turned out to be one of the biggest challenges in making the traditional African ale. It turns out that Sorghum is pretty hard to come by in the Western world. I've been home in Markham, Ontario for the past few days, and I have been trying to take advantage of the multicultural tapestry that is Toronto to find the necessary African grains. I tried Indian Grocers, African Grocers, Bulk Food stores, even animal fodder suppliers, but none of them had any.

I was about to give up today when, in desparation, I did a google search for "mail order sorghum grain" or something like that. You can imagine my glee when this lead me to, an organic food supplier that sells bulk Sorghum! I stomached the shipping costs (they are based in Nebraska), and bought 10 pounds of Sorghum, which should arrive in Halifax shortly.

While checking a bulk barn, I was fortunate enough to find a nice big bin of bulk, hulled millet, which was nice. My one concern was that, since it was hulled, it might not malt properly. So I did an experiment. I bought 10 cents worth of the stuff, and soaked it with water in a few different ways, to see if I got any germination. It turns out that leaving it on a water soaked paper towel was the best strategy:
This picture is too small to see it, but the millet grains have begun to germinate, so they will malt without hulls. It makes sense, really, the hull is more a protection from the elements than anything else, and the elements on my kitchen counter aren't very harsh.

So as soon as the friendly hippies at manna harvest pull through, I'm set for grains. Excellent. Time for the lighter side of this project.

While doing my shopping, I wound up at the LCBO, as a beer nut such as myself frequently does. While there, I picked up a little treat:

That's a glass of Tusker Finest Qulity Lager, from Kenya Breweries Ltd. In one of the most difficult, painstaking and unwelcome bits of homework I have ever had to do, it was my arduous duty to sample some of this beer.
All sarcasm aside, the beer is...not terribly remarkable. It's incredibly clear in colour-it almost looked like water as I poured it. It is quite fizzy, with mild, American Lager flavours, and a metallic aftertaste. Really not as exotic as I expected, but if nothing else, it certainly was refreshing. I'd probably appreciate it a lot more if I were drinking it in the Kenyan sun, rather than Toronto in February.
It seems like almost all mainstream African beers are, in fact, lagers. This does make sense, due to the refreshment factor, but it makes my life more difficult. Anybody have a mini fridge I can borrow? With some luck, maybe I can clone something a bit like Tusker to contrast with whatever is produced by my painstakingly sought Sorghum and Millet.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Introduction and Preliminary Research

I would like to begin this blog with a few words of thanks to Professor Gordon McQuat, who took it upon himself to organize and teach the best history course the Halifax University Community has seen for quite some time. Also some words of thanks to everyone else involved with HSTC 3611: Brewing Science; notably Dave, Katie and Chris. Seriously, this project is an awesome opportunity.

So here's the deal. As part of a research project into the role of beer in the colonization of Africa, and the affect of colonization on the local drink practices, I am planning on brewing two different types of African Beer. The first will be a traditional Sorghum and Millet beer that was common to many parts of Africa before European colonization. The second will be a clone of a modern, colonial inspired beer, hopefully from the same region that the recipe for the traditional beer comes form. I am going to use a comparison between these two beers, along with my usual stack of hardcover books, to write my paper.

Right now I'm in the research stage. From what I've seen so far, my tratitional recipe will most likely involve equal parts sorghum and millet, with no hops. Some West-African nations have been known to use banana in their beer, so this might be interesting to try. If I was going entirely authentic then it would be an open fermentation, but I'm too much of a wimp for that. I'll probably use a fairly generic ale yeast, or perhaps a lambic blend.

As for the modern beer, I'm having trouble finding a recipe to clone. The issue is that it has to be an ale (I don't have a fridge to ferment a lager in), and most common African beers seem to be lagers. Hopefully a bit more research will find that for me, and then it will be a simple question of deducing a recipe. I'm open to suggestions!

Well, that's all for now. I'm off to find a place to buy some Sorghum and Millet. I'll be back soon, hopefully with some recipes.